I love Mexican food and I don't seem to eat it all that much when I'm on the road. The problem is that most of the great places in a given area are usually only known to the locals. All the touristy places - the chains - are OK, but not what I'm looking for in Mexican food. I want real, authentic Mexican. And they're usually in places that are tough to find.
Fortunately, on my last trip to Kansas City, a couple of the guys from one of my dealers took me to Ponak's Mexican Kitchen, southwest of the downtown Kansas City area right near the I-35 overpass (see map). Ponak's is owned by John Ponak. I know, you're thinking - How can a guy with a Croatian name cook great Mexican food? Actually, it was John Ponak's Mexican grandmother who started the restaurant. He took it over about 20 years ago and continues to run it today (when he's not at his second home in Florida).
One of the guys I was with knew John Ponak from years before and said he liked to drink his beer. I was told, "Just like all of us, I'm sure he's slowed down."
Well, not me...
Ponak's interior is more reminiscent of a Northwoods lodge with a lot of knotty pine walls and basic tables and chairs. There's a bar area as you walk in - that's the smoking area - and then the main dining room is to the left of the bar area.
We sat down at a table in the half-filled dining room. It was around 8:15 in the evening and I understand that Ponak's can get pretty busy during lunch and dinner. Since it was a Wednesday night, it wasn't too bad.
We were given a basket of homemade chips and some of their spicy and tangy homemade salsa. They were very good. The guys told me their margaritas were very good and I ordered one of those. One of the other guys said, "Why don't we just get a pitcher?" So we did.
There's a lot of authentic Tex-Mex food on the menu. I was looking at a lot of different things, including their deep fried shredded beef flour tacos, pork enchiladas, and chili rellenos. I couldn't make up my mind as to what I wanted, so I ordered all of them al a carte.
One of the guys got the combo fajitas - shrimp and beef. The other guy ordered a combination platter of a burrito, enchilada and a beef tostada. Refried beans and rice came with the meals.
After we polished off the pitcher of margaritas, the waitress came back and asked if we wanted another. I said, "Well, if you guys want another one, that's fine. But I'm going to have a beer."
I asked the waitress if they had Sol, and she said they did. One of the guys said, "Sol? I've never had that before. Is it good?"
I said, "I like it better than Corona and it's more authentic than Corona, I think."
So, he ended up ordering one, as well. And bowing to peer pressure, the other guy said, "Well, sign me up, too."
Almost simultaneously, the food and the beer showed up. Served on huge plates, the portions were large, but manageable. I dug right into my deep fried shredded beef flour taco. I'm a sucker for deep fried flour tacos. The shells puff up and they're so light and tasty. The shredded beef was seasoned in a machaca-like style with chiles, cumin and garlic. It was wonderful. As was the pork enchilada. It wasn't all that large, but the pork filling was tender and flavorful. And the chile relleno was very good, as well.
Our bill for the three of us with the margaritas and a couple beers each came to just under $50 bucks with tip. A lot of food and good drinks for a little bit of money.
There's a lot of good Mexican restaurants in the area around Ponak's, but according to one of my guests it's the best of the best. Not having tried some of the others yet, I'm going to have to take his word for it. Ponak's Mexican Kitchen was damned good. I highly recommend giving it a try if you're in the greater Kansas City area. And I'll be back, you can bet on that.